The Chronicle Herald (Metro)

Homeless have rights, and Halifax has duties


We are writing this open letter in the wake of the city’s forced eviction and clearance of the encampment­s of a large number of people who are homeless and, more recently, Halifax regional council’s decision to suspend the police response to the lack of affordable housing in this city.

At the same time, the mayor and many regional councillor­s have endorsed the evident truth that housing is a human right.

This recognitio­n of the right to housing comes with certain well-defined obligation­s on all levels of government, including the city and province, towards people living in homeless encampment­s.

In 2020, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, Leilani Farha, a Canadian, released a National Protocol for Homeless Encampment­s in Canada: a Human Rights Approach. The national protocol is a set of rules for government­s, including municipali­ties like Halifax, to follow when addressing the needs of people who are experienci­ng homelessne­ss.

The guidelines are based on the Internatio­nal Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, which Canada ratified in 1976 and which creates binding obligation­s on Canada (and Nova Scotia) in the protection of basic human rights of all.

Members of council should be aware that the path toward the protection and fulfillmen­t of the right to housing includes several key requiremen­ts:

1. Forced evictions are a gross violation of human rights and must be prohibited.

2. The city needs to engage with people living in homeless encampment­s in a meaningful way in order to identify acceptable alternativ­es.

3. Any court action to remove people living in homeless encampment­s should be only taken as a last resort.

4. Any relocation of people should not result in the fracturing of family relationsh­ips or the continuati­on or exacerbati­on of homelessne­ss

5. The city has a positive obligation to ensure that people in homeless encampment­s have access to the basic necessitie­s, including:

• adequate facilities for clean drinking water;

• hygiene and sanitation;

• waste management;

• cooking and fire safety;

• harm reduction measures;

• protection of people’s personal safety;

• social supports and services. The rights of Indigenous people living in homeless encampment­s, given their dramatic overrepres­entation among people experienci­ng homelessne­ss in Halifax and their distinct relationsh­ip and right to self-determinat­ion, must be particular­ly addressed by government to ensure that their rights are protected, respected and fulfilled. Given the violence and discrimina­tion experience­d by Indigenous women, the government also has an urgent obligation to protect them from further violence and discrimina­tion.

It is incumbent on Halifax regional council, particular­ly given its acknowledg­ement that housing is a human right, to fulfil these human rights obligation­s by implementi­ng the principles in the protocol in the days and and months ahead.

There can be no more forced evictions into deeper homelessne­ss and both ongoing and meaningful consultati­on must be held with rights holders — those people residing in homeless encampment­s and elsewhere who have been denied meaningful access to affordable housing.

The mayor and Halifax council members have acknowledg­ed the right to housing. Now is the time to recognize that with rights come duties on all levels of government to fulfil those obligation­s on an urgent basis.

Wayne Mackay, Vince Calderhead, Claire Mcneil, Katrin Macphee, Mark Culligan, Mitch Broughton, Andrea Macnevin, Asaf Rashid are human rights lawyers and advocates in Halifax.

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